ABU DHABI // A contest this summer will reward reading in a special language: Braille.
Blind people across the country can win cash prizes in the "Everyone Reads" competition by reading a certain number of books, then being tested by a panel on the material. And for the first time, the contest, held by The Zayed Higher Organisation for Humanitarian Care and Special Needs, will be open to people across the Gulf Co-operation Council and not just in the UAE.
The contest, which started in 2007, aims to encourage a reading culture among the blind. Each age group receives books to read over three months. Then they are tested on analytical skills, creative interpretation of the story and understanding of symbolism. The stories will be distributed in June and the testing will take place in September.
Hasham al Wahidi, last year's second-place winner, did not rely solely on Braille during his high school and university studies. But he said his determination to excel helped him win the Dh3,000 prize last year.
"I was keen on catching up, so I took a lot of summer courses during university. While my friends travelled, I stayed and studied," he said.
The 25-year-old Emirati finished a bachelor's degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at al Hosn University - the only blind student in his class of 25. Although some of the study material was translated into Braille, he mostly relied on recordings of the lectures and took his exams orally.
"I also attended a regular school," he said. "I only lost my sight when I was 14 due to brain cancer."
After two years of treatment in Germany and one year spent studying Braille, Mr al Wahidi went back to school and graduated at the age of 25. He is now working as an auditor for Braille books at the Blinds Printing Press, part of the Zayed Higher Organisation, and said his next step would be to become a Braille instructor and continue his master's degree studies.
Three winners are chosen in the five levels of the competition, based on age starting at six years old.
The assigned stories are all from books translated into Braille. The contest is sponsored by Sheikh Hazza' bin Hamdan, and the value of the prizes has yet to be declared. Forty-five people participated last year.
"Reading helps people with disabilites to get out of their environments and merge with society. It is very healthy for them," said Naema al Mansouri, Blinds Printing Press manager.